It’s something no one wants to think about, but it’s inevitable. All life ends in death. Our pets become part of the family, and losing them is heartbreaking. Understanding your cat’s dying behavior can help you support them at the end of their life, and prepare yourself.
Where do cats go to die?
It’s a skill some people envy. Cats seem to know when they are very sick or about to die. It’s an uncomfortable thought, that your cat can sense their impending death. Cat’s behavior when dying ranges from isolation to seeking out their loving owners.
Where cats go to die inside
Indoor cats will typically find a quiet place when they feel unwell. Withdrawing and isolating is one of the signs your cat may be about to die.
Your cat will want to avoid environmental stressors. People do something similar when they don’t feel well. A sick person will often want to be in bed. They don’t want lots of light or noise. They want a peaceful environment that allows them to rest. Your cat desires the same thing.
They may hide in a cellar or attic. Rooms that aren’t often used are another possibility. They may also hide under a couch or bed. In addition to seeking a quiet place, private places make them feel more secure.
Where cats go to die outside
Outside cats will seek out a place that is quiet and secure. They will want to be somewhere they feel safe. Some cats hide in vegetation. Others will find a small hole. They may also find a storage shed or building to hide in.
The place where a cat will die varies, but the basic characteristics remain the same. They look for a place that feels safe from predators, and where they aren’t likely to be disturbed by people. They may also seek some type of shelter. This can be an abandoned building or a hole made by another animal.
Do Cats Know When They Are Going to Die?
Many owners believe that cats have a sixth sense that humans don’t possess. However, some humans also know when the end is near. This usually occurs when they’ve been sick for a long time.
We can’t say for sure how much cats understand about death, and whether or not they can predict it. However, we do know that they understand when they are sick.
Cats are very attuned to their bodies. They may not have medical knowledge, but they know when something is very wrong with them physically.
In addition to feeling that there’s something wrong, they may smell it. Cats have a stronger sense of smell than humans. This allows them to smell sickness, on other animals and themselves.
Mother cats will often kill sick or weak kittens. Sometimes owners are baffled, because there are no observable clues the kitten is ill. The cat seems to sense things about physical health that escape us.
It’s unlikely that cats have the advanced understanding of death that we do. However, they do seem to have some concept of death. Perhaps they know they are going to die. Maybe they just understand that they are very sick. What is for certain is that they have some type of awareness of their declining health.
Why do cats go away to die?
Cat owners sometimes feel like they did something wrong when a cat goes away to die. We want to be with loved ones in our final hours, so why wouldn’t our cats want to be with us?
There are many reasons cats will hide or leave before they die. It has nothing to do with how their owners have cared for them. It’s simply part of their natural behavior, and not a reflection on the owner.
It can be heart breaking. You want to be there for your cat. However, cats still have some wild instincts that cause them to behave differently than we might expect.
Cat dementia, technically known as Cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS, is one of the reasons cats leave home. It’s very similar to dementia in humans, and occurs as cats age. Essentially, it causes cognitive decline just as it does in humans. Your cat may seem to forget rules they have learned, and be unable to remember familiar routines.
It generally occurs in cats who are 10 years old or older, and the symptoms will begin slowly. You may notice your cat having accidents outside the letterbox and sleeping at different times than before.
They can become irritable. They may seem restless or anxious. At the same time, you’ll see a lower activity level and loss of interest in playing. Confusion and disorientation will also occur. They may begin to eat less and stop grooming themselves.
These signs can also indicate illness. If your cat is exhibiting these symptoms, it’s a good idea to bring her to the vet for a checkup.
Unable to Return Home Physically
Many cats love to explore and roam. If your cat explores the area, but always comes home, they may not intend to leave permanently. When a cat is very weak or sick, they can simply be unable to return home.
They use the last of their strength following their instinct, which is to wander. When they realize they should return, they are too weak to make the journey.
Cats in the wild wil hide from predators. They do this by either hiding in a small secluded area on the ground, or climbing up high. This is an instinct that is still present in your domesticated feline.
You may have noticed when your cat is scared or stressed, they have a favorite hiding place. This allows them to get away from any perceived danger, so they feel safe. The danger could be a dog or even a vacuum cleaner, but it triggers their instinct to get to safety.
When a cat is sick, they know they are vulnerable to predators. They will often find a place to hide because their instinct tells them they are in danger. In the wild, a sick or injured animal is an easy target for predators. This makes them vulnerable, so they hide as a way of staying safe.
Cats don’t always realize that they are safe at home. This leads them to run away to seek safety, led by their instincts.
Instinctually Hiding Sickness or Weakness
Another aspect of cat behavior is their desire to hide sickness or weakness. Since sick or injured cats are a target for predators, they will go to great lengths to hide any weakness.
This doesn’t only apply to predators. It also applies to other cats. Cats can be territorial. A weak cat can lose their territory or resources, because they can’t win an encounter with other cats.
It’s natural for your cat to hide any ailments. Unfortunately, they may also hide them from you. You may not realize your cat is sick, or how sick they are. You realize they have disappeared, without knowing that they were very ill before they left.
Do cats know when they are about to die?
There are different theories about this. Some people, and experts, believe that a cat knows when it’s not well, but it doesn’t have a concept of death. However, others believe that they do know when they are about to die, just as humans sometimes do.
The Story of Joan
Many owners believe their cats are aware they are going to die, and some even believe their cats have told them they were about to pass on. The story of Joan is one cat owner’s experience.
Joan was a 6-year-old calico. She was diagnosed with kidney disease, and her prognosis was uncertain. One night, Joan climbed into her owner’s lap. Her owner expected her to purr as she nuzzled her, but Joan didn’t purr. Her owner became tearful, intuiting the message behind the silence.
Then Joan sat up, in full proud cat pose. She lifted her head as if basking in the sun, closing her eyes. Her owner had never seen her do this before, and said it seemed as if she was enjoying the sun from another realm. She told her beloved Joan she understood. Joan ended the pose and went on with her day, acting normally and even purring. She died a few weeks later, deteriorating rapidly.
This is one account of many where owners believe their cat let them know their time was nearly up.
Another story involves a cat named Oscar. He was a resident cat at a nursing home. When a resident was about to die, Oscar would go sit on their bed.
The sixth sense Oscar used is actually their heightened sense of smell. The body gives off chemicals when near death that can tell a cat someone is nearing death.
Of course, this doesn’t prove cats actually understand death, but they can certainly recognize it’s presence.
Do cats fear death?
If cats understand death at all, it’s unlikely they have the same fear of it that we do. Cats sometimes mourn their dead kittens, so perhaps they do understand what has happened. Some cats will try to wake their kitten, or wait patiently for it to wake up. Does this mean they don’t understand, or is it the same shock or denial humans often experience when a loved one passes away?
A Vet’s Account
One vet stated that pets often look around for their owners in their final moments, and are afraid.
Perhaps they do understand something about death. Perhaps they simply know something isn’t right with them. Regardless, there seems to be some fear in the last moments. According to the vet, they need their owners in this moment. They are looking for comfort from their owner. A warm loving hand from their favorite person might be all they need to pass peacefully instead of in fear.
What are the signs of a dying cat?
There are several signs your cat may be dying. Cats often do their best to hide sickness or injury, but there are clues if you know what to look for. Of course, acknowledging that your cat is nearing the end of their life is not easy. However, it’s better to know so that you can support your cat in their final days.
Some weight loss is normal. Cats often lose some weight during the summer because they eat less. In the winter, they gain the weight back. As a cat ages and becomes a senior, around 10-15 years of age, their body becomes less efficient at digesting protein. They need to eat more food to maintain their weight.
However, extreme weight loss is another matter. A cat with extreme weight loss will have their spine and hips sticking out, with no fat covering them. If your formerly fat cat begins losing a lot of weight, this is also a cause for concern.
Weight loss can occur because a sick cat loses their appetite. Less food taken in means they will lose weight. Some diseases, like cancer, cause the cat to lose weight because cancer cells burn calories much faster than normal cells. The cat will quickly lose their stores of fat and protein.
Hiding is a normal part of cat behavior. However, if your cat begins hiding more than normal, they may be sick. Sick cats hide because they are afraid of predators, and they are less able to defend themselves in a weakened state.
If your cat disappears for long stretches of time, or doesn’t come out for meals, this is particularly concerning. If your cat begins hiding much more than normal, you’ll need to discuss the issue with your vet.
Not Eating or Drinking
Not eating or drinking is a serious sign something is wrong with your cat. If they begin eating much than normal, or do not eat or drink for 24 hours or more, bring them to the vet right away. They may be very sick.
Often, cats stop eating or drinking in their final hours or days. They lose their appetite. They may simply not have the energy to eat any longer.
Lethargy and Inactivity
As your cat nears the end, you’ll notice that they are much less active. They may sleep most of the time. They will spend most of their time resting. Most cats who are very sick or about to pass on will only move when necessary to eat or potty.
Other than these two basic needs, they will only be active when trying to find a safe hiding place, if they choose to do that.
Some cats will hide or become aggressive or irritable. These cats want to be left alone, and will isolate themselves from their owners.
Other cats become more friendly. They may want constant attention, or may simply want to be near you at all times.
It may be surprising that cats can have such different behavioral changes, but it’s likely determined by their personality. Cats have a wide range of personalities to begin with, and sickness can magnify traits already present.
Some diseases will also affect personality. Dementia will cause cats to become confused, which can also lead them to be irritable or aggressive. Pain can also make a cat grumpy or standoffish. Humans either want to be cuddled and taken care of or left alone when in pain, depending on their personality. Our cats are the same.
Lack of Grooming
Cats that are near death have no energy or concern for grooming themselves. Your normally immaculate cat may be dirty or even smelly due to lack of grooming.
They may not be physically able to groom themselves, or may not have the energy to do so. It’s also possible that they are depressed because they feel unwell, and have no desire to care for themselves.